5 poems by Lee Johns

beautiful old medieval small church under cloudy sky
After Church, I Meet the Sun 

Everything's peeling in the alley where I meet her some Sundays,
and this week's sermon is a scab she flicks away
under old car advertisements, posters for weight loss pills,
new altars we worship. I kneel before her in the dirt
outside the passenger door with sand in my scraped knees,
staring God down, not looking where I'm going. I am going
to trip on Heaven and crash straight into Hell. But it's the falling
I want to make last, the reaching out with both hands for all of her
in the back alley where we have been fasting, where we hunger. 
I'm catching her like the sun on telephone wires,
I'm a sunfish hooked on the cuffs of her jeans,
her face a sunflower blooming over me, my words a sunlit 
earthly kind of prayer.
photo of an ice cave
Second Month in a New State

It's a new feeling, this restless busy loneliness. 
I count sidewalk cracks to class, head bent,
sore neck, sore skull, an expensive pain,
an expensive wave to the professor, little nod. 
I would eat spiders to feel something wake up in me again. 

I contemplate washing my clothes in the bathroom sink. 
I contemplate the words of Homer and Herodotus. I become a duality,
rising and sinking, the mind and the body, the
soul. Mine does not know what it wants. It says,

I only want to find a cool dark place to sleep. 
I only want to let myself be drawn outside of me.
I want, in this most beautiful of worlds,

to feel alive but not to live—
a question with both wrong answers.
boat canoe evening island

The water is somewhere, shimmering. 
Your right hand is here, opening,
my index finger skimming 
over a crease. Words curl
across your skin. I tell you their shape 
has meaning: that when you love 
it is with all the heart that flutters in your palm. 
I am already learning how heavy it is to love you– 
still, I let each reassuring phrase be said.
We are not sheltered by the house called truth.
A lie is nothing more than a boarded window 
in an empty room. In the river by the school, 
that day we climbed down to the bank, my searching hands 
slid across yours, but when I looked
I was holding only a dead fish, rotting on its slick 
pollution-foam throne. Thinking of its skin, I say again: 
if you ever love, it will be with all the warmth
you can fit in the stiff curve of one dead palm. 
You look at me like in my fist I hold 
some pitiful broken thing. It is only your hand, 
tightening over mine, fingers pale 
as fish bone.
ruins of ancient architecture
Before First Flight

As they kneel laying feathers in the tar
Icarus tells his father yes
I am afraid of heights but still
I stand on the blade of the cliff
watching waves crash and rebound
watching Apollo, his winged chariot
my hope is a plea a kind of prayer
asking when you made
this mortal terror, this ache
of being human and struck it ablaze
on the matchbox of my restless hands,
did you intend for me to live along 
the silver-sharp slice of a knife,
and does this burning leave me charred
or am I glowing with it,
and when we fly among the gods of men
as open as we’ll ever be will we look down
nostalgic for the falling?

And steady-handed Daedalus replies
there is nothing worth fearing in the tide’s turning
and nothing in the sky
and nothing in the ship’s forgotten flag
and nothing in the sun, 
and he says Icarus my son you are the ant 
in the spiral shell, blind and empty, 
always both pulled and pulling,
seeking, seeking.
red and black hanging ornament
The Heart
(Trigger warning for self injury.)

The heart 
is a scaled and 
shameful thing. The heart
catches on the same brambles
it grew around itself to keep itself 
from touching the world. The heart 
says warm your hands by the oven or plunge 
your hands into the bubbling water on the stove.
To feel
nothing at all
is all I have wanted
for many an unmatched 
summer day. To want nothing,
this I want more than anything,
want meticulously, with a wanting
that catches nothing more in its design 
than the weight of its own treacherous desire.


Originally from Chicago, IL, Lee Johns is now studying English at a university on the East Coast. Their poetry has previously been published in Body Without Organs. Right now, you can probably find them at the library.

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